Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why Joey Comeau thinks we should burn CanLit down

The author of the novel Malagash takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Malagash by Joey Comeau is about a woman striving to create a second, eternal life for her father as an internet virus. (Bryanna Reilly/cargocollective.com/ECW Press)

In Malagash, a darkly comic novel by Joey Comeau, a woman named Sunday obsessively works on a plan to keep her dying father alive forever. She records everything he says, with plans to turn his thoughts and words into a computer virus that will spread around the world.

Comeau, who also wrote the webcomic A Softer World and is the author of the novels Lockpick Pornography and Overqualified, takes CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"

All jobs are terrible. The only thing a job ever gave my writing was an unhealthy belief in numbers — the idea that my worth as a person and as a writer was tied to how many books I sold. How many reviews I got on Amazon. How many followers I have on Twitter. Now I don't know how to feel like I am worth anything at all. So, thanks capitalism!

2. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

What is my mom like? Well, let me tell you, my mother is brilliant and tough and funny and weird as hell. My mother feeds the crows in her back yard, and always has new gossip about whatever crow scams they've been trying to pull. My mother worked on the movie Titanic, and used to illegally drag race in downtown Halifax. I've seen my mother attack a biker twice her size, and I don't think I had ever seen fear until I saw the look on that man's face. She used to take my brother and I on fair rides just so she could laugh at the faces we made. She would fart at the dinner table and then say, "That was for you, Joey." My mother is wonderful. Thank you for asking.

3. Michael Christie asks, "Is there some thematic or structural characteristic of your work that you feel is representative of what we call CanLit? Do you see yourself as a CanLit writer? Why or why not?"

CanLit has more than enough white men. More than enough white women. CanLit needs more queer, trans, POC and CanLit REALLY doesn't need the opinion of one more late-30s white dude talking about what CanLit needs. We had our chance. Burn it all down, and let's hear from someone new. 

4. Melanie Mah asks, "What's the hardest thing about writing/being a writer?"

The hardest part of being a writer is the faceless little girl who shows up in the background of every photograph I take. The hardest part of being a writer is that feeling like I know her but I can't quite remember from where. 

5. Nicole Lundrigan asks, "Have you ever used your fiction to explore an event you found confusing as a child?"

I was going to answer no, but then it occurred to me that I did write a horror novel set in the same Bible camp that I attended as a child. So… maybe?

6. Jonathan Auxier asks, "What's the strangest or most obscure word you've ever worked into a book?"

I like simplicity and economy in prose. 

7. Katherine Govier asks, "Do you feel, what you've finished a book, that you got at the questions you wanted to write about?"

I don't have any questions I approach fiction with. I don't write a book to ask a question or to answer one. I don't think I do. What would I ask? Sometimes I feel like I've lost all my questions and so all that's left is just the "Why?" An indiscriminate why. Why get up? Why keep living? Why anything? I don't think there is an answer to that one, other than to keep looking for an answer. I am happy when I've finished a book, if it has one or two moments where you can see someone other than yourself clearly, and believe. 

8. Douglas Coupland asks, "What does your family think of you being a writer?"

My grandmother always asks me, "Are you still writing?" And "Have you written something I can read yet?" — My first novel had a bit too much explicit gay sex for her, but she's still very proud.

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